Last year, Rep. Robert E. Badham (R-Calif.) skeptically waved a copy of the National Enquirer - which is not his favorite newspaper - to illustrate all the "secret nonsense" the House Select Committee on Assassinations had produced thus far.
Yesterday he was more impressed. Yesterday, as a member of the House subcommittee that supervises the spending for such investigations, he said he heard enough evidence to command his attention.
"We've really not been given one shred of evidence - until today," Badham told reporters following a lengthy closed-door preview of what the committee has come up with in its controversial inquiries into the murders of President John F. Kennedy and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. "Today," Badham said, "we not only got some evidence, we got some candor."
The result, it appears, will be approval by the House Administration Committee of most of the $790,000 that the Assassinations Committee is seeking to complete its work. It has already spent more than $4 million since it was organized two years ago.
yesterday's hearing on the money request began on a publicly rancorous note. Chairman Louis Stokes (D-Ohio) warned that his panel would run out of funds completely by the end of September without a fresh transfusion. Yet it has already scheduled long-delayed public hearings, which begin next week, to run through December.
Rep. Mendel J. Davis (D-S.C.) objected loudly, complaining that the committee had made no effort at all to live within the current $2.5 million budget that the House gave it earlier this year.
"This is what bugs me," Davis fumed. "I'm getting to the point now where I don't want to see the smoking gun, even if you got it. How in the hell does the select committee become exempt (from trying to live within its budget) when every other committee in the house has to do it?"
Richardson Preyer (D-N.C.), chairman of the subcommittee investigating the Kennedy murder, replied that "this is not like any other committee of the Congress." He said it has an obligation to pursue whatever leads look most promising, even if that means unexpected expenses. For the Kennedy assassination. Preyer indicated tht this will require extensive "neutron activation tests" - a sophisticated method of determining minute metallic residues on clothing and other items.
At that, Stokes seemed to nudge him and Preyer said no more. The committee's breakdown of expenses still to come includes only $500 for neutron activation tests, although it also contains a vague lump sum of $65,000 for "additional consulting work" initially commissioned last year.
Stokes sought to blunt Davis' complaints with a reminder that Davis himself had told the committee months ago to come back for as much as $1 million more if it ran out.
According to Stokes, the committee needs back the $478,000 the Administration Committee slashed from its $2,978,000 request this spring plus $160,000 for "scientific projects" (primarily photo analysis, photo enhancement and acoustical tests) and $152,000 for "underestimating expenses" at the start of the year.
Davis and other members of the House Administration subcommittee headed by John Dent (D.-Pa.) were still annoyed, especially at salary costs. Of the 90 remaining staffers, 23 are paid at least $30,000 a year.
Davis prevented a subcommittee vote on the matter with a parliamentary objection. But then the hearing went into executive session, prompted by New Jersey Democrat Joseph G. Minish asking Stokes: "Will this investigation change the course of history in your opinion?"
The replies, whatever they were took some 2 1/2 hours behind closed doors. The Assassinations Committee, it appeared , had the upper hand.